What does it take to get justice in the Philippines?:

The Struggle for Land, Life, and Rights of Filipino Farmers

By: Sumilao Solidarity Group*

TEN YEARS AGO, on October 9, 1997, the Mapadayunong Panaghiusa sa mga Lumad Alang sa Damlag Multi-Purpose Cooperative (MAPALAD-MPC), a group of farmers composed of 137 families staged a 28-day lugol, an indigenous form of hunger strike to express their demand to redistribute the 144 hectares of land traditionally part of the seat of government of their ancestors. The historic hunger strike gathered critical public and media support that pressured former President Fidel Ramos to declare a ‘win-win’ solution giving the farmers 100 hectares, and the remaining 44 to the former landowners, Norberto Quisumbing Sr. Management and Development Corporation (NQSRMDC). However, their victory was short-lived when the Philippine Supreme Court on appeal by the NQSRMDC, reversed the Presidential ruling and approved the land use conversion application from agricultural to agro-industrial use.

Under the guise of community welfare and development and with the support of the local government, NQSRMDC presented its conversion plan that promised to bring in investors and potential revenues through the construction of hotels, commercial centers, recreational parks, processing plants, etc.


TEN YEARS AFTER THE DECISION OF THE SUPREME COURT, the disputed land remains idle. None of the projects upon which the conversion was conditioned were implemented. Then in 2002, the Quisumbings illegally sold the 144-hectare land to the San Miguel Foods, Inc. (SMFI). SMFI plans to put up a 144-hectare piggery farm in violation of the conditions of the approved conversion order.


In 2004, the Sumilao farmers filed a Petition for the Cancellation of the Conversion Order against Quisumbing and/or SMFI before the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) on the basis that more than 5 years have passed since the Conversion Order and yet the Quisumbings have failed to initiate any development work on the land. Further, the SMFI grossly violated the conditions of the Conversion Order by completely changing its use to hog farm. Both actions are, in fact, in violation of DAR Administrative Orders 1 and 2, Series of 1990 and other pertinent laws on land conversion.


However, the DAR ruled, albeit mistakenly, that it has no jurisdiction over the case as the same belongs to the Office of the President (OP). The Sumilao Farmers appealed to the OP where the case is currently pending.


AND NOW, the Sumilao farmers, again risking their lives, health, and safety, are currently marching from Sumilao, Bukidnon to Malacanang in the hope of generating public awareness and support for their plight.


Their demands are: the immediate revocation by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of the conversion order for the said 144-hectare estate; immediate issuance by the DAR of the “notice of coverage” and redistribution of the said property; and the enactment of a law extending and reforming the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.


In doing so, the people are given a sliver of hope in the governance and justice system of this country.


By not doing so, the notion that the law is only for the rich and powerful is further reinforced.


If a convicted plunderer like former President Joseph Estrada could be “pardoned” for his crimes by Arroyo, shouldn’t the Sumilao farmers be entitled to more “justice” as they have not violated any law but are merely trying to claim the right given to them by the law itself.


If staging a hunger strike and walking all the way from Mindanao to Manila will not be enough to get justice from this government, what else then can the people do?


x x x


* Composed of Akbayan! Citizens’ Party List, AR! Now, AFA, AsiaDHRRA, Balaod Mindnaw, KAISAHAN, CARET, Focus on the Global South-Philippines, NCICSI, PAKISAMA, SALIGAN, etc.


For more information about the campaign, pls. visit http://sumilaomarch.multiply.com/.


To sign the online petition, please visit http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/sumilaofarmers/index.html.


To send your solidarity messages to the Sumilao farmers, pls. email [email protected].